What’s a College Degree Actually Worth? 20 Good Answers.

Is a bachelor’s degree today the financial equivalent of a high school diploma ten years ago? Do you need a master’s degree, or is an associate’s degree viable in today’s job market? Most of all, can you afford to go to college, and will you receive a financial return on your college expenses? The following sources may help answer the question about what a college degree actually is worth in financial terms.

For the most part, the articles we discovered on what a college degree is really worth were pessimistic about retaining valuations from a decade prior, with the rise in college costs and the current lack of jobs. However, a college degree still has value, just not as much as it did before this economic recession.

The question you need to ask yourself is whether you consider a college education worthwhile for your future, both in financial terms and in terms of experiences. This was the focus of many articles and statistics shown below. This list is divided into categories to show national perspectives down to local views and considerations on degree types and even gender issues. The links lead to articles that contain both statistics and opinions, and all links lead to information published between 2009 and 2010.

National Perspectives

  1. Census Bureau Press Release: This information is about as close as you’ll get to current statistics from the Census Bureau. In this release, the Bureau states that workers with bachelor’s degrees in 2008 earned about $26,000 more on average than workers with a high school diploma.
  2. How Much Is That College Degree Really Worth? U.S. News & World Report, known for their college rankings, offers a take on the cost vs. return method of current college degrees. Advanced degrees, it seems, reward bigger payoffs, and — an interesting note — college grads seem more likely to get jobs with health insurance.
  3. Infographic of the Day: Is College Really Worth It? Fast Company provides an interesting graphic that debates the cost of a higher education. The question is whether paying for a private college is worth the investment…
  4. Is college still worth the price? CNN Money tackle the value of a college degree, coming to the conclusion that college is more than a financial decision…it’s a decision that can change a person’s life in terms of values that cannot be quantified.
  5. Is college worth the cost? FastWeb, a site that offers information about college scholarships and loans, provides an argument for education, stating that college is not a commodity — like a house — but that it is an asset that enables the production of income.
  6. Is your degree worth $1 million — or worthless? Liz Weston with MSN Money sat down with a financial calculator to play with some numbers to discover that the worst payback degree-wise is the master’s degree. Associate, bachelor’s and professional degrees (for law and medical school) are worth the investments. Read on to learn more about her calculations.
  7. Placing a Value on a College Degree: The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article about the value of a college education. In the end, happiness and the ability to be in an “amazing environment” for four years seems to win out over the cost…provided the college is affordable.
  8. The Job Market: Is a College Degree Worth Less? Time Magazine’s Kristi Oloffson states that most degrees have been devalued with the rise in educational costs, but that employers stress degree-bearing job applicants are worth more than those that do not carry degrees. Still, work experience is valued almost as much.
  9. Weighing the Value of That College Diploma: Another perspective from the Wall Street Journal that emphasizes the value of earning a degree in science- or math-related fields compared to other majors.

Specific Focuses

  1. College Education Costs: Is College Worth What You Pay For It? The Digerati Life offers a far different perspective than any other article we discovered…focusing on gender issues, this article shows that more women earn bachelor’s degrees than men, yet they are paid far less than those men who earn the same degrees.
  2. Does a College Degree Protect your Career? Unemployment Rate for College Graduates Highest on Record: This article contains relevant graphics for a different perspective on college education…current career protection and unemployment rates.
  3. How Much Is That Bachelor’s Degree Really Worth? The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research offers their argument on the million dollar question about what a four-year degree is worth, along with charts and graphs.
  4. Is a College Degree Worth It? Specifically, is an agricultural degree still relevant? This article, published in “Corn & Soybean,” provides economic clues for those who want to seek a degree in agricultural sciences. Read on to learn some interesting solutions, even if you want to obtain a degree in another subject.
  5. Is grad school a waste of time (and money)? This article at Wikinomics questions the value of a master’s degree, specifically the MBA. While the article looks at the negative side of spending money on higher degree levels, the questions at the end of this piece might make you think twice about forgoing that higher level of education.
  6. The Case for a U.S. Gap Year Campaign…: This article makes a case for traveling before college, comparing the U.S. standards of high-school-to-college routes to European standards, where travel before college is highly encouraged. Their perspective is based upon the value of the college degree today.
  7. What Is a Master’s Degree Worth? The New York Times asks four educational authorities whether the pursuit of a master’s degree is worth the effort and the money. Find out which degrees are worth the money and whether the risks of higher education are worth the financial outlay.

Local News Perspectives

  1. As jobs languish, college grads settle for less: This article out of Kansas City talks about how college-educated graduates are being downsized. Statistics follow, with the thought that, “A college education is no guarantee” to higher income.
  2. College cash crunch — Financial aid applications up 40 Percent: This article published in Michigan’s Holland Sentinel talks about the concerns local high school students have over paying for college during this economic crunch…is the degree worth the stress?
  3. Is a college degree worth what it costs? An Oregon newspaper states that Oregon students are getting less education, and that this trend might cost the state in the long run.
  4. Would you go deeply into debt for a college education? Minnesota ranks among the states with the highest student debt. Comments added to this short article provide food for thought.

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About Nathan and Joanna Cornett

We are a from San Diego California, currently on a mission trip in Guatemala. Nathan has worked as a youth pastor, teen center director, college advisor, and now missionary. Joanna has worked at LaBahn's Landscape for 7 years in the field, sales, and as the Vice President, she started the Hispanic ministry at Foothills Church, and has worked in youth ministry, she is now working as a missionary. We are both passionate about youth, worship, and missions.

2 responses to “What’s a College Degree Actually Worth? 20 Good Answers.”

  1. qtrixie says :

    I wouldn’t put too much stock in “what is it worth”. I once had a prof explain that you are investing in yourself and should always remember that advice. I have a masters degree and have been down the bumpy road of college. Am I employed today how I thought I would be 20 years ago? Nope. Am I happy to be where I am? Absolutely!

    College gives you credentials that can be used in most areas.

    Diversifying your lower degree and your post grad work is key.

    Don’t get too caught up in one field and not really give another related field a try.

    Try to get as many internships while in school as you can. Don’t be afraid to go after that “out there” internship. You may be surprised.

    I received a degree in business with a major in statistics and also a degree in science. I thought I was going to be an actuary or something in business. I hated it. I accepted an internship at a non-profit organization using statistics. I liked it. While doing research for them I used the public library and worked with a librarian and LOVED IT. I went to grad school and got my librarian’s degree and went to work for a business section of a public library. I liked it but then I subbed in children’s services and I LOVED IT! I now am a supervisor for a staff in children’s services and got there with my business and love doing homework a couple nights a week with the kids using my science and math. You never know where you will end up. Is it worth it? Well I have a job I love, I make a pretty good living and have great benefits and an old fashioned pension. I would do it all over again.

    Hope this helps!

    • College Life Planning says :

      Thanks for the comment, and I am with you on the issue of quality of life issue. Loving what you do is critical! And I agree with your input on how college prepares us in a variety of ways. College is more than just a credential on the wall, it is a way of forming thoughts and thinking patterns, it is a way of learning how to think critically. The skills that are learned in college are about building character, work ethic, reasoning and creativity. By the same token, the question of “worth” is important. While it may not be answered easily (and answers may vary based on the person you ask), it can be answered. Deciding how much money and time to invest into college can impact us for years to come! Especially when loans and debt are involved. The amount of time invested in a college degree also matters in the long run. These are factors that ought to be thought about in the college planning process. While “worth” may be in the eye of the beholder, there is important data that must be understood in the planning process. Thanks for the great comment!

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